Chapter XL

When Miss Prissy left the room the Doctor sat down by the table, and covered his face with his hands. He had a large, passionate, determined nature; and he had just come to one of those cruel crises in life, in the which it is apt to seem to us that the whole force of our being—all that we can hope, or wish, or feel—has been suffered to gather itself into one great wave, only to break upon some cold rock of inevitable fate, and go back moaning into emptiness.

In such hours men and women have cursed God and life, and thrown violently down and trampled under their feet what yet was left of life’s blessings in the fierce bitterness of despair. This or nothing! the soul shrieks in her frenzy.

At just such points as these men have plunged into intemperance and wild excess; they have gone to be shot down in battle; they have broken life, and thrown it away like an empty goblet; and gone like wailing ghosts out into the dread unknown.

The possibility of all this lay in that heart which had just received that stunning blow. Exercised and disciplined as he had been by years of sacrifice, by constant, unsleeping self-vigilance, there was rising there in that great heart an ocean-tempest of passion; and for a while his cries unto God seemed as empty and as vague as the screams of birds tossed and buffeted in the clouds of mighty tempests.

The will that he thought wholly subdued seemed to rise under him as a rebellious giant. A few hours before he thought himself established in an invincible submission to God that nothing could shake. Now, he looked into himself as into a seething vortex of rebellion; and against all the passionate cries of his lower nature, he could only (in the language of an old saint) ‘cling to God by the naked force of his will.’ That will was as determined and firm as that of Aaron Burr. It rested unmelted amid the boiling sea of passion, waiting its hour of renewed sway. He walked the room for hours; and then sat down to his Bible, and wakened once or twice to find his head leaning on its pages, and his mind far gone in thoughts from which he woke with a bitter throb. Then he determined to set himself to some definite work; and taking his Concordance, began busily tracing out and numbering all the proof-texts for one of the chapters of his theological system; till at last he worked himself down to such calmness that he could pray; and then he schooled and reasoned with himself in a style not unlike, in its spirit, to what a great modern author has addressed to suffering humanity,—‘What is it that thou art fretting and self-tormenting about? Is it because thou art not happy? Who told thee that thou wast to be happy? Is there any ordinance of the universe that thou shouldst be happy? Art thou nothing but a vulture screaming for prey? Canst thou not do without happiness? Yea, thou canst do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness.’

The Doctor came lastly to the conclusion that ‘blessedness,’ which was all the portion his Master had on earth, might do for him also. And therefore he kissed and blessed that silver dove of happiness, which he saw was weary of sailing in his clumsy old ark, and let it go out of his hand without a tear.

He slept little that night, but when he came to breakfast all noticed an unusual gentleness and benignity of manner; and Mary, she knew not why, saw tears rising in his eyes when he looked at her.

After breakfast he requested Mrs. Scudder to step with him into his study; and Miss Prissy shook in her little shoes as she saw the matron entering. The door was shut for a long time, and two voices could be heard in earnest conversation.

Meanwhile James Marvyn entered the cottage, prompt to remind Mary of her promise, that she would talk with him again this morning.

They had talked with each other but a few moments, by the sweetbriar-shaded window in the best room, when Mrs. Scudder appeared at the door of the apartment, with traces of tears upon her cheeks. ‘Good morning, James,’ she said. ‘The Doctor wishes to see you and Mary a moment together.’ Both looked sufficiently astounded, knowing from Mrs. Scudder’s looks that something was impending. They followed Mrs. Scudder, scarcely feeling the ground they trod on.

The Sacrifice

The Doctor was sitting at his table with his favourite large-print Bible open before him. He rose to receive them with a manner at once gentle and grave. There was a pause of some minutes, during which he sat with his head leaning upon his hand. ‘You all know,’ he said, turning towards Mary who sat very near him, ‘the near and dear relation in which I have been expected to stand towards this friend; I should not have been worthy of that relation if I had not felt in my heart the true love of a husband as set forth in the New Testament; who should “love his wife even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it;” and if in case any peril or danger threatened this dear soul, and I could not give myself for her, I had never been worthy the honour she has done me. For I take it, wherever there is a cross or burden to be borne by one or the other, that the man who is made in the image of God, as to strength and endurance, should take it upon himself, and not lay it upon her that is weaker; for he is therefore strong, not that he may tyrannize over the weak, but bear their burdens for them, even as Christ for His church. I have just discovered,’ he added, looking kindly upon Mary, ‘that there is a great cross and burden which must come, either on this dear child or on myself, through no fault of either of us, but through God’s good providence; and, therefore, let me bear it.

‘Mary, my dear child,’ he said, ‘I will be to thee as a father; but I will not force thy heart.’

At this moment, Mary, by a sudden, impulsive movement, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, and lay sobbing on his shoulder. ‘No, no,’ she said, ‘I will marry you as I said.’

‘Not if I will not, dear,’ he said, with a benign smile. ‘Come here, young man,’ he said, with some authority, to James, ‘I give thee this maiden to wife,’ and he lifted her from his shoulder and placed her gently in the arms of the young man, who, overawed and overcome, pressed her silently to his heart. ‘There, children, it is over,’ he said. ‘God bless you!’

‘Take her away,’ he added, ‘she will be more composed soon.’

Before James left, he grasped the Doctor’s hand in his and said, ‘Sir, this tells on my heart more than any sermon you ever preached, I shall never forget it. God bless you, sir!’

The Doctor saw them slowly quit the apartment, and following them, closed the door, and thus ended


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